Public Health England said it wants to reduce excessive calories in everyday foods by up to 20% by 2024.
It is focusing on obesity after its research found being overweight can exacerbate the risks from having coronavirus.
It has urged hospitality and retail food businesses to make the following changes:
- Reduce calories by 20% for most meal categories in the eating out of home, takeaway and delivery sector, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories.
- Reduce calories by 10% for children’s meal bundles.
- Reduce calories by 10% for retailers making ready meals, chips and garlic bread, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories.
- Reduce crisps and savoury snacks by 5%.
- Combined guidelines for both sectors have been set for sandwiches (5% ambition) and pizza and pastry products (20% ambition).
Restaurant and takeaway food can be particularly high in calories, the department said, hence the higher reduction ambitions for the out-of-home sector.
Businesses have also been asked to help reduce consumers’ salt intakes from a current average of 8.4g per day towards the recommended 6g.
A calorie reduction guidance document - titled Technical report: guidelines for industry, 2017 baseline calorie levels and the next steps - outlines suggested calorie limits for different foods.
Trade leaders have said such guidelines place a heavy burden on businesses that are doing their best to recover following months of closure amid the pandemic.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the sector was already a big advocate of healthy eating and did not need more cost pressures as it recovered from the pandemic’s fallout.
She said: “The hospitality sector has been supportive and proactive in helping to provide healthier choices and nutritional information for customers. We continue to support the objectives and will never absent ourselves from such well-intentioned pursuits, but the timing of these announcements, with the country still in the grips of a pandemic and hospitality businesses struggling to stay afloat, rather sticks in the craw.
“Never have the burdens threatening the existence of hospitality businesses been more acute – this is not the time to throw petrol on the fire.”
Role to play
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said the guidelines would help businesses to “take positive action".
“We can all do our bit to stay healthy, to help protect us from coronavirus and take pressure off the NHS,” she said. “The food industry can play their part, by making it as easy as possible for everyone to eat more healthily."
Elsewhere, trade bodies have expressed concerns that mandatory menu labelling could be detrimental for recovering businesses.
Large businesses (with more than 250 employees) will have to display calories on food and alcohol menus, under the Government’s obesity strategy.
Eating disorder charities have said the labelling could also have serious mental health implications.